In my own journey as an entrepreneur as well as helping entrepreneurs, I’ve learned there is no perfect or right way to do it. No three-step guide is going to make you successful and you can’t just, “pay someone to do it.” Entrepreneurship is mostly about solving problems and figuring it out! What I’ve found is that the most difficult part of entrepreneurship can be determining what to figure out and knowing which problems to actually solve.
This series aims to provide steps toward a formal plan to support new entrepreneurs seeking a process of launching a new business. By breaking down the major components and first steps over a multi-part, day-to-day guide, each part will highlight a major theme and provide daily, 15-minute activities for the upcoming month to help get you moving toward launching your new business!
Starting a business isn’t magic, it isn’t something only those with business degrees can pursue, and frankly, it isn’t even something you are born with. Starting a business is a marathon and when you are training for a marathon you have to commit the time, resources and consistency to the end goal. Let’s start by considering the end goal.
Start with the End in Mind
What is your goal? Is it riches, wealth and glory? I hope not, for many reasons, but most of all because that is the least likely outcome for any entrepreneur interested in starting a business. Rather, your goal could be as simple as providing some free cash flow to increase your income, lifestyle or financial security. We might call this a side hustle. Your goal could be to create income replacement for yourself or a spouse. This we would call being a solopreneur or micro-entrepreneur. Moving toward something larger, you might desire to create a business that employs yourself and a few others, creates a net increase over your current income or lifestyle and creates some personal wealth for you and your family. This we would label as a lifestyle or small business. Finally, there are some types of businesses and entrepreneurs who seek to launch high-growth businesses. Many of these are the types we see on television, in Silicon Valley, or on the news because of a large financial success. These are typically high-growth or technology companies.
What matters is not which one you pick, but that you pick one. Understand what your personal goals are and that the business idea correlates with the end goal.
I’ve been accused of saying that ideas are a dime a dozen. When working in venture capital more than a decade ago, I saw more than 900 companies enter our process for funding consideration and we ultimately funded about 40 of those in four years. Not a great hit rate for entrepreneurs! My point is not to impress you, but to impress upon you the importance of understanding that ideas, by themselves, are not typically unique and are not the basis of a successful business. Execution, however, is what makes an idea turn into a reality.
Therefore, developing and honing your idea is important, but getting stuck on the perfect idea will likely lead to you perpetually staying in a state of non-motion, constantly killing your idea before moving on to the next one. I often catch myself in this place and it is not inherently bad. For instance, challenging your own assumptions about your idea is very important, but should not be the exclusive basis by which you decide it has value. You need to move into a more robust ideation phase.
Begin by considering the problem. Businesses, successful ones, solve problems for customers. No customers, no business. If you solve a big problem, you may have a large opportunity. Think about, ideate on, document and design the perfect customer. If it is a person, consider their age, perhaps gender, their income level, lifestyle and where they live. Think about the problem they have that you desire to solve and design them! If it’s a business, apply similar logic and build a profile of the problem. It could be that this business has an accounting problem that needs to be addressed. What size business are they? What field or industry are they in? What does their accounting team look like? How large is the organization? Take this information and build a profile of who your customer will be.
Solve the Problem
Once you’ve ideated on the problem you are solving and considered the profile of who your customers are, you can move on to building out your solution and value proposition. Consider first whether you have a painkiller or a vitamin. For instance, if you have a headache, you may take a painkiller. The purpose is to solve the symptoms. If you have a headache every day for a week and you go to the doctor, they may say you have a vitamin deficiency. The vitamin solves the root problem. Now consider your solution, where does it fit, and how does it compare to the existing solutions? Develop short phrases that describe your solution, how it solves the problem and the value you are creating.
Research the Best…and the Rest
At this point, you are beginning to frame out a business concept and you may feel like you are ready to start building your product or service. Stop. Wait. Look both ways before crossing. It is important for you to make sure you understand the market, the landscape and the competition. You will have competitors, they will be further along than you and they do actually have something valuable. Never discount a competitor. Start with the best competitor in the market. Find out who serves your potential customers best. Research them, look at their product/solution and look at the organization. Try to understand where they fit (do they manufacture, distribute, direct sell, online sell, channel partner sell, etc.) then go deep on their value proposition and product features.
Once you’ve framed this information in your notes, start looking for the rest of the competition. Focus first on a few other direct competitors (those who offer something similar), then move to indirect (those who solve the problem but with a different method). Then consider competitive alternatives — things your customer might do or purchase that would ultimately compete against you…like inaction! Finally, pause for a moment here and make sure you have competitors. If you do not seem to be able to find anyone who is competing with you, that may not be a good thing. First, you may be in a market that hasn’t matured enough or the pain isn’t great enough to justify the cost of a solution. Second, you may not be self-aware of your competitors, or possibly over-stating your solution.
This concludes our first part in the series “How to Start a Business in 15 Minutes a Day.” Download the daily guide and structure to walk you through the recommended steps and actions for this month. Part 2 will be available right as you are completing this first set of preparation so you can continue your journey to launching a new business!
Jeremy Vickers, Ph.D., serves as Associate Vice President of External Affairs at Baylor University where he leads institutional events, community relations, and external affairs. He is passionate about innovation and entrepreneurship and channels that passion to serve organizations where he can support both growth and change. Jeremy lives in Waco, TX with his wife Jackie and four children.